First, standard fanfic disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or places named in the story, I'm not claiming to, and I wouldn't want to 'cause really, who would want to live in a world without women? Please don't sue the starving writer.
Second, rated PG-13 for language and mildly adult content. It's nothing worse than you'd see on TV. I think.
Third, a note about spelling: my thanks to Kenox for noticing that I'd been spelling Panther's name "Panta." I didn't even realize that I'd done that - the first time I saw all of SMJ, it was on a fansub that used that spelling, so I guess it's stuck with me.
Fourth, if you're reading this for the first time, welcome. If you're just coming back to this story after its nearly two-year hiatus, welcome back! I've spent some time editing the entire story for various things, but almost nothing in terms of actual content has been changed. Either way, I hope you enjoy this.
Prologue: Careful Youth
Faust the Tenth, future ruler of Gartlant, screamed and struggled against the steel band that held his head in place. All around him, Hess's bizarre machine spun and cranked, sending flashes of light across the room, preparing young Faust for the memories of the nine who came before him. Faust could already see flickers of the other lives in his head, glimpses of a past he didn't want but had to adopt for the sake of Gartlant. He screamed again.
Through the dome that hung over his head, he saw Tiger, the red-haired marionette he'd met just after being born. She looked worried, though Faust could tell she was trying to hide it. Ever since she'd taken him to see the flowers and Faust the Ninth had beaten her for it, Tiger had done her best to appear emotionless around the older man. She hid her feelings from everyone but young Faust. Why was a marionette the only one who ever seemed to care about him? To Hess, he was just an experiment, to Faust IX, he was just a copy, another clone in line for--
An image popped into young Faust's mind. A woman who looked a little like Tiger, though not quite; the woman's hair was longer and her face seemed less sad. But what startled Faust was that the vision was of a real woman, flesh and blood, not a marionette. Who was she? And how was it possible--
There was a sudden loud crash, and the dome over young Faust's head swung wildly, then smacked into his forehead. The barrage of foreign memories came to a jarring halt, and young Faust gave a ragged cry as his head started to throb. All around him, the machine slowly spun to a halt, and he heard the elder Faust's voice.
"Hess, what happened?"
For the first time in his life, young Faust heard Hess sound worried. "I don't know, Fuhrer. Everything was fully functional this morning."
Young Faust hung his aching head as Tiger ran up to him. "Faust-sama! Are you all right?" She started undoing the buckles that held him to the chair, and as soon as he was free, he fell. She caught him before he hit the ground. "Faust-sama!"
". . . should be ready again in two days," Faust heard Hess say as he tried to stay conscious.
"Have it done as soon as possible," the elder Faust said, anger in his voice. "The Tenth must be ready to assume leadership when I am gone." He turned and started to walk out of the room, then stopped just before he reached the door. "Have him taken to his room," Faust IX said, "and have the marionette punished for coddling him again."
Young Faust looked up at Tiger, at the worry and fear in her eyes, and whispered "Tiger, I'm sorry," before he passed out.
Faust the Tenth woke up screaming.
His dreams were filled with war and conquest, of tanks crushing the boundaries of Terra II's neighboring countries and armies of battle-made marionettes invading foreign cities, places he'd only read about and could hardly imagine. The dreams had an undertone of power and glory, as though he was supposed to enjoy watching the war, but all he could see was fear and pain and death. He shook his head violently, whipping his blond hair back and forth, and wiped the cold sweat from his brow.
Was this what the other nine Fausts had dreamed of? Was he supposed to want this? Was this supposed to be Gartlant's future?
Faust looked toward the bedroom door and saw Tiger, standing there in silhouette. Even though it was night, she was still wearing her suit, oddly formal and sort of ridiculous at the same time. As always, she wore her cap, the same one she'd put on his head after he'd hurt himself, before the elder Faust hurt her. Young Faust shuddered.
"Tiger," he sighed, oddly aware of how relieved he sounded.
"Did you have a bad dream, Faust-sama?" she asked as she approached his bed. She stopped a few feet away, standing almost at attention, looking much more restrained than usual. "It was only a dream. You should go back to sleep."
Faust's face fell. "Tiger, what's . . . what's wrong with you? Why are you talking like that, you don't - you don't!"
Tiger stood still for a moment, then fell to her knees at the side of Faust's bed. "Faust-sama! Please forgive me!" She looked up at him, and he could see the sadness in her eyes. "They tortured me, and they told me . . . told me to treat you like the leader of Gartlant, and not a child!"
Young Faust gritted his teeth. First the memories, then the dreams, and now this . . . it wasn't right. He wasn't really sure how or what, but something wasn't right about any of it.
"Yes, Faust-sama?" Her gaze hadn't left him.
"You have to follow my orders, right?" Faust started to smile.
"Yes, Faust-sama. I am yours to command."
"Then listen to me." He leaned forward and put his hands on her shoulders, and grinned at the look on her face. "I want you to destroy the machine."
"But Faust-sama, the memories. . . ." Tiger started to shrink back, as though she feared being hit.
"I don't want them," Faust whispered, squeezing her shoulders. "You don't know what it was like. . . . Please, Tiger! Do something so they can't do that to me again!" He looked into her eyes, pleading.
For a second, she seemed confused, then Tiger nodded. "Yes, Faust-sama." She smiled.
Faust smiled back at her, trying to keep himself from laughing out loud. "Thank you, Tiger," he said.
"Anything for you, Faust-sama." Tiger stood and turned for the door, but Faust caught the back of her coat. She paused, and looked back at him.
"Be careful," Faust said. "I don't want you to get in trouble again." She nodded, and he smirked. "Make it look like Hess screwed it up if you can."
To Faust's surprise, Tiger smirked back. "Yes, Faust-sama." Even if she didn't say so, Faust was sure she was going to enjoy this. She hurried out of the bedroom.
Faust leaned back and lay down, then pulled the covers up over himself. He knew that Tiger wasn't like other marionettes, like the blank-faced servants that everybody used around the palace, but he figured she was just programmed to act more human because she'd been made for him. He wasn't sure why she'd seemed to like his plan so much, but at least he knew she would do it.
Faust rolled over and slept more peacefully than he had in a long, long time.
A week later, young Faust sat in the Gartlant palace library, surrounded by stacks of books. Most of them were histories, and almost all of them had titles like 'The Glorious Era of Faust the Fifth' or something like that. He was, of course, bored out of his skull.
Faust leaned back in his chair and heaved a sigh. Ever since Tiger had broken Hess's machine, Faust IX had insisted that he learn everything he could about Gartlant history. In theory, it was supposed to help him learn how to run the nation. In practice, it was driving him slowly mad, and making him think that Gartlant was seriously messed up.
"Let's see," Faust said to himself, picking up the list of notes he'd been taking just in case Faust IX barged in again and demanded proof that he was learning. "Most of the economy, including commerce and all production, is run by computer, the same computer that runs the army functions." He paused. "Which is really stupid, because it always rations out food like it's wartime. Then again, it looks like we're the only one who ever wants to go to war, so it makes some weird kind of sense." He scoffed, then looked to the next item on the list. "Marionettes only for the use of those who run the nation." He snorted. "Can't imagine why, seeing how Ninth treats Tiger, even if she is programmed different."
"You called, Faust-sama?"
Faust looked up as Tiger walked into the library. He smiled at her. Of course she was nearby, she was supposed to be protecting him. Not that he had a problem with that.
"Not really," he said, "but I'm glad you're here. Can you believe I have to read all this?" he asked, gesturing to the stacks of books. "I swear, it all sounds the same after a while."
"If you say so, Faust-sama," Tiger said noncommitally.
"Something's not right about a lot of this," Faust said, turning back to his notes. "Things will be different when I'm in charge, believe me."
"I hope so," Tiger said quietly.
Faust looked at her and blinked. "What?"
Tiger snapped to attention and looked straight ahead. "Forgive me, Faust-sama! I spoke out of turn--"
"No," Faust interrupted, and Tiger looked at him, surprise on her face. "No, you didn't. What were you going to say?"
Tiger bowed her head, and it was a moment before she started speaking. "I was given the history lessons as well, Faust-sama. I saw what you see now. Gartlant has always been the same."
"Do you think it should be?" Faust asked. When Tiger didn't say anything, he pressed on. "Look, Tiger, you know this better than I do. I've hardly been off the palace grounds. You have, haven't you?"
"What's it like out there? Because it seems like Gartlant never does anything but prepare for war, even if we're not fighting anyone, and that's not right." He remembered the dreams of death and conquest that came after he'd been put through Hess's machine, and shuddered. "I mean, that can't be good for anybody but the army."
"It's as you say, Faust-sama," Tiger ventured, sounding more confident. "Gartlant's army always gets whatever it needs. From what I've seen outside of the palace, the people who aren't in the army suffer."
"That's not right," Faust said, shaking his head. "Why do we even need such a large army, none of the other countries are even aggressive!" He took a deep breath, then looked up at Tiger. "Tiger, once I'm running this place, I'm going to change things, and I'm going to need your help."
"Yes, Faust-sama!" Tiger said with a bright smile.
"Just promise me that you'll never be afraid to tell me what you think, no matter what. I'm not like the old guy, I'm not going to hurt you. Ever." He grinned at the look of relief on Tiger's face, and wondered if there was more behind it, or if it really was just her programming. He decided he didn't care. "Besides," he said quietly, "you're the only one here who really cares about me."
Tiger didn't say anything, but lowered herself to his level, then leaned forward and hugged him. To Faust's surprise, she was warm, and then he remembered the day he'd hurt himself, and she had kissed it to make him feel better. Faust grinned, and hugged her back.
He knew he had a lot to do. But with a marionette like Tiger at his side, he was sure he'd be all right.